Renowned for his massive frame and effective pitching, Rich Garces was one of the most beloved Red Sox of the last 15 years.
The Red Sox have many names that will forever resonate throughout New England: Williams, Yastrzemski, Rice, Garciaparra and Martinez are just a few that fans will always associate with a career full of highlights.
Not everyone can be a legend, though.
Some players have a couple memorable moments, but as a whole, their careers do not stand out in any profound way. They have all blended into one unit: the “That Guys.”
Rather than allow these players to go unrecognized, every week I am going to take a look at the Red Sox career of one of the “That Guys.” I’ll look at what defined his tenure in Boston, what he actually accomplished on the field and what he went on to do after leaving.
This week’s subject: the original portly fan favorite who wore jersey No. 34, Rich “El Guapo” Garces.
The journey that brought the man known as “El Guapo” to Boston was epic in both its length and the wide variety of locales the husky reliever visited.
Signed as an amateur free agent by the Minnesota Twins at age 17, Rich Garces began his professional career in rookie ball playing for the Elizabethton (Tennessee) Twins in 1988.
Garces’ steady rise through the Twins system saw him get his first taste of MLB play in 1990, and the right-hander was ranked the No. 16 prospect in all of baseball prior to the 1991 season.
However, his progress ultimately stalled at the Triple-A level, leading to his release from the Twins after the 1994 strike season.
After brief stints with the Cubs and Marlins, Garces signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox in December of 1995. After bouncing between Triple-A Pawtucket and Boston in 1996 and 1997, Garces was finally up for good in 1998.
Any appearance by Garces delighted fans, who loved his enthusiasm on the mound.
Rich Garces was, perhaps, the most beloved member of the Red Sox not named Nomar or Pedro in the late 90s and early 2000s.
The mere sight of him warming up used to bring Fenway to its feet, as El Guapo's uniquely round shape delighted fans and baffled hitters.
Garces did not appear in the Sox’s 1998 ALDS loss to the Indians but did pitch well in the team's 1999 playoff rematch. He earned the win in the Sox’s 23-7 Game 4 rout of the Tribe, tossing 2.1 innings in relief of starter Kent Mercker while allowing just one hit and one earned run.
While he did not stay in Boston long, the right-hander did put up some impressive numbers.
Though he did not last long, Rich Garces put up some excellent numbers over the course of his brief tenure with the Red Sox.
After missing the first half of the 1999 season due to injury, he came roaring back to post a 5-1 record and 1.55 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 40.1 innings of work.
Garces' 2000 season was also historic. His 8-0 record to start the season was unequaled by a Red Sox pitcher until Josh Beckett accomplished the same feat in 2007. For the year, El Guapo finished 8-1 with a 3.25 ERA over a robust 74.2 innings pitched.
For his Red Sox career, Garces finished 23-8 with a 3.74 ERA and a 1.315 WHIP over parts of seven seasons.
However, his gregarious personality and 250-plus pound frame will long transcend any of the statistics he put up in Boston.
Garces lost his effectiveness after losing 30-plus pounds prior to the 2002 season and was ultimately released by the Sox.
After the 2001 season, the Red Sox took a look at Rich Garces' declining numbers and expanding waistline and ordered the right-hander to lose some weight in the offseason.
As a result, Garces reported to spring training in 2002 approximately 30 pounds lighter than he had been the year before.
While this sudden weight loss may have been good for El Guapo's overall health, it had a disastrous impact on his pitching.
After a miserable first four months of the season that saw his ERA balloon to 7.59, Garces was released by the Red Sox on August 1, 2002.
Though he never used it as an excuse, many felt that the drastic weight reduction had a negative impact on the pitcher's mechanics, inadvertently accelerating his decline.
Although Rich Garces signed with the Colorado Rockies prior to the 2003 season, he was released in spring training and never pitched another MLB game.
However, that was not the end of his story.
In 2007 and 2008, Garces attempted a comeback with the Nashua (New Hampshire) Pride of the Can-Am league. His energy and enthusiasm were a big hit with the New Englanders who fondly remembered the pitcher from his days with the Sox, and for his part, the 37-year-old Garces was moderately effective in logging 17 saves.
After a brief stint with Potros de Tijuana of the Mexican league, Garces retired following the 2008 season.
Although he hasn’t pitched in Boston for nearly 10 years, mentioning the name El Guapo will surely bring a smile to the face of any true Red Sox fan.